Yesterday, snow fell over London and South East England. Roads, railways and airports came to a standstill. A fifth of us failed to get to work.
The media didn't know how to handle this story. Should the transport system and the country's schools have coped better? Were we a country of skivers? How much money did a few inches of snow cost the economy? Did we keep going better when winter got icy 30, 40 or 60 years ago?
Not in my experience. True, the winters of 1977/78, 1978/79 and 1981/82 were far worse than this one. (My 1982 diary shows that it started snowing at 9pm on 7 January and continued for 44 hours, until 5pm on 9 January.) But as my photo above from January 1982 shows, British Rail didn't run a service at all on the Coryton line in Cardiff, which is why you can't even see the tracks to the left of the signal box at Heath Junction. We were off school for a week as a result. (We had lessons in February half term to make up some of the lost time in our A level year.) So much for claims that schools never used to close because of wintry weather! And when we went on a school trip to London a week after the snow stopped, we had to go by coach as there were still no rail services between Cardiff and London. I cleared the drive at home the day before we set off (below).
Back to 2009. The media and political know-alls were proclaiming mock outrage at the fact a snowstorm could bring London to a standstill. True, it was hardly a heroic performance. But as Boris Johnson said, it hardly makes sense spending millions on snowploughs that would only be used once every 10 or 20 years. My father Bob Skinner recalled London's Hounslow Council buying Swiss snowploughs for £500,000 after a bad winter in the 1960s - only to see them sitting idle until the winter of 1982!
It's also easy to sympathise with the Local Government Association's spokesman who was given a very rough time by Radio 5 Live Drive's Anita Anand. He was trying to justify why Birmingham and other authorities had announced on Monday afternoon that their schools would be closed on Tuesday, when the forecast heavy snow locally didn't materialise. He rightly said they'd have been damned whatever they had done. Working parents needed time to arrange childcare, rather than face a problem when they turned up at the school gates in the morning. Anand at least had the good grace to concede she had been unfair, after many listeners emailed and texted in support of the LGA's man. An example of how interactive broadcasting is a good thing rather than a fad.
Tonight's 5 Live Drive show also had an excellent contribution from Philip Eden from the Royal Meteorological Society. He paid tribute to the accuracy of the weather forecasts this week, which accurately predicted the snowfalls. He pointed out that the media's obsession with simplicity and brevity reduced the benefit of accurate forecasts. And, pointing out the London-centric view of the media, he showed how the weather men's accurate description of 'London's heaviest snowfall for 18 years' became, inaccurately, 'Britain's worst snowfall since 1991'.
Finally, over to Michael Fish, once Britain's best known weather forecaster. Writing in The Guardian today, he said yesterday hardly counted as a blizzard, which is drifts of eight to 10 feet. Those of us who enjoyed real winters in the 1970s and 1980s could have told you that! (The photo of our garden in Winnipeg Drive Cardiff in January 1982 shows what you get when a blizzard visits your home.)